(ORDO NEWS) — Researchers from the Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering (PME) at the University of Chicago have made a groundbreaking discovery in the field of autoimmune diseases. Led by Professor Jeffrey Hubbell, a team of researchers has developed a new vaccine that can completely stop the development of diseases such as multiple sclerosis, type 1 diabetes and Crohn’s disease. Unlike traditional vaccines, which train the immune system to attack viruses or bacteria, the new “reverse vaccine” removes the immune system’s memory of a specific molecule, effectively stopping autoimmune reactions.
Autoimmune diseases occur when the immune system mistakenly attacks healthy tissue in the body. For example, in the case of multiple sclerosis, the immune system attacks myelin, the protective covering around the nerves. The inverse vaccine developed by PME researchers uses the liver’s natural ability to flag molecules from destroyed cells with “do not attack” flags. By combining an antigen with a molecule that resembles a fragment of a destroyed cell, the vaccine causes the liver to recognize the antigen as a friend rather than an enemy, effectively stopping the autoimmune reaction.
In a recent paper published in the journal Nature Biomedical Engineering, Professor Hubbell and his collaborators demonstrated the effectiveness of their vaccine in stopping the autoimmune reaction associated with a disease resembling multiple sclerosis. What makes this discovery particularly interesting is that the vaccine can be used to treat diseases such as multiple sclerosis even after inflammation has already set in, making it more applicable in real-world settings.
T cells of the immune system play a critical role in recognizing and destroying unwanted cells and molecules. However, sometimes they can make mistakes and attack healthy cells. The body has a mechanism known as peripheral immune tolerance, which occurs in the liver and prevents immune reactions from occurring in response to any damaged cell. Professor Hubbell and his colleagues found that labeling molecules with a sugar called N-acetylgalactosamine (pGal) could mimic this process, directing the molecules to the liver, where tolerance develops.
By attaching any molecule to pGal, the immune system can be trained to tolerate it, effectively reducing immune responses. This approach, known as an inverse vaccine, allows for a more specific and targeted suppression of immune responses compared to traditional immune-stimulating vaccines. The potential of this new vaccine to treat autoimmune diseases is enormous and offers hope to millions of people suffering from diseases that currently have no cure.
According to Professor Hubbell, “Rather than stimulating immunity as we do with a vaccine, we can suppress it in a very specific way with an inverse vaccine.”
This revolutionary discovery has the potential to revolutionize the field of autoimmune diseases and pave the way for new treatments. Further research and clinical trials are needed to confirm the vaccine’s effectiveness in humans, but early results are promising. If successful, this could be a game-changer for millions of people suffering from autoimmune diseases.
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